Will our city officials stop tampering with the historic preservation process?


On Nov. 15, the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Review Board voted unanimously, 11-0, to forward the nomination of the historic Henry Hale Memorial Library, Hamline Branch, to the federal Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) – a clear declaration by state preservation leaders that this library deserves to be honored and saved.
It is now time for the city to reverse its decision to demolish the existing library and for Mayor Carter and Saint Paul Public Library (SPPL) leadership to pursue the win-win alternative that they have ignored for the past two years: renovate or relocate the current library.
Unfortunately, Mayor Carter has taken the unprecedented step of objecting to the library’s inclusion on the NRHP, an action that we believe indicates his administration may use taxpayer dollars to wage a costly and unnecessary legal battle to stop historic designation from being granted.
If such a legal maneuver ensues, it will be in direct conflict with the city’s commitment to historic preservation – embedded in Saint Paul’s comprehensive plan – as well as a misuse of public dollars for the sole purpose of compromising a fair, honest, and transparent effort by hundreds of St. Paul residents to save a building important to many in the Hamline Midway neighborhood.
Our elected leaders should allow this process to play out at the federal level without further interference, especially since the administration has already been rebuked by the National Park Service for mischaracterizing the vote of the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) when the nomination to the NRHP was before them in August.
During the past two years, Renovate 1558 has repeatedly documented widespread support for preservation in this community – and also exposed SPPL leadership’s determination to demolish the current library well before they attempted any outreach to the public. We have acknowledged the need for a thoughtful renovation of the existing library, and previously indicated our support for the renovation option proposed by LSE Architects and commissioned by SPPL earlier this year. We remain committed to working together with those, who like us, are equally concerned about equity and accessibility issues but may favor a new building on the current site. However, there should be no rush to tear down this library in the spring; there should only be a rush to sit down and fully explore the alternatives to demolition, ideas that have never been seriously considered by the city or SPPL leadership.
Toward that end, we are asking city officials to drop their opposition to national designation for the Hamline Midway Library and to instead begin exploring possible locations for a new library, whether the vacant CVS building at University and Snelling, a building within Saint Paul Public Schools that may be vacant or underutilized, or, as we have previously suggested, a co-located site adjacent to Hancock Recreation Center. We also encourage city officials to seek out buyers for the library, as we believe there are many organizations or business entities that would be interested in repurposing the building and utilizing federal and state tax credits for renovation that are not available to a city. Finally, we implore the Carter administration to stop tampering with the historic preservation process, in particular by undermining dedicated staff at the HPC, a city commission responsible for objectively determining whether a property is eligible for historic designation based on federal, state, and local regulations rather than partisan politics.
Learn more at Renovate1558.org.


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